TSR, $2.25, ISBN 0-88038-162-0
Margaret Baldwin Weis has served up some memorable and entertaining fantasy fare in the past, but her gamebook The Endless Catacombs is… well, there’s probably a good reason why this slim volume doesn’t show up on the list of the author’s greatest hits.
While this is a Dungeons & Dragons “adventure book”, it is hard to identify the setting of this campaign. Is it Greyhawk? Faerun, perhaps? Were not for the presence of actual spell names here, this one could have been a clichéd campaign set in any generic fantasy setting. You are Gregor, a gypsy, and an androgynous one at that, judging from the ugly illustrations in this gamebook. You start out about to be made to earn your keep by stealing, and naturally, you are too goody-goody to steal. Luckily for you, you soon stumble upon a band of adventurers led by a cleric, a warrior, an evil wizard, and a noble drunkard who turns out to be your long-lost brother. Can all of you discover the source of evil in the Endless Catacombs and destroy it?
The plot is pretty throwaway, but it’s actually the best thing here, believe it or not. The campaign is awfully designed. It is very short, thanks to the presence of long exposition, and most of the choices offered are not really choices at all. If you deviate from the predetermined story line, you either meet a bad end or you get railroaded (“Oops! It’s a dead end! Turn back and pick another door…”) until you eventually locate the “correct” option. It’s impressive how a place called “the Endless Catacombs” has so many dead ends!
Annoyingly, the bad endings tend to be presented as a moral failing on your part. This may be fine if the morality in this campaign is consistent, but it isn’t. Rely on your useless drunkard brother, and you lose. But if you cut him loose, you lose too, and worse, just before you die, you are reprimanded for not giving your brother the love and support he needs! You don’t even know him, apart from the fact that, in the past, he abandoned you and your mother to die!
Perhaps this campaign would have been better as straight-up fiction for very young kids, but even then, it is bogged down by too many unimaginative clichés to be of use to anyone over the age of ten.